by J.L. Moultrie
With a will buried beneath the conditioning and walls of childhood, he rode his bike behind the ice cream truck. As he veered into the middle of the street, sudden regrets about being poor stood in his mind, then his body collided with the front end of an accelerating Lincoln town car. He flew into the air, his frame falling upon the summer scorched asphalt.
The children and parents of the neighborhood either gawked or gathered around him as he crawled out of the street onto the sidewalk grass. The car kept going. A sense of shame covered him because he was the center of attention. His lower back and head were ringing with a burning sensation. The crowd dissolved after he managed to walk into his older sister’s home.
He winced as he slid onto the far dining room wall. He followed his sister’s eyes as she walked past him without uttering a word. No one took him to the hospital.
At moments like this, upheaval rose in him that he could not understand nor accept. His limited sphere of understanding was constantly demolished and slowly rebuilt. He didn’t know it, but these things would be planted in the fertile soil of his recollections.
Unable to circumvent the monoliths of familial history and expectation, he found himself at the center of his 5th grade teacher’s Academic Game’s team. After he tried to quit his teacher refused saying he, “Did not like quitters”. He tried his best to avoid the event, asking his mother if he could stay home for two days in a row. However, on the third day, at his locker, his friend asked him if he was, “Ready for the big day.” He stood on stage shocked, looking for his parents in a sea of faces, but seeing none.
After spelling a few words correctly he failed and retreated to the bathroom, where he relieved himself after holding it for a long time. He felt a weight lift from his shoulders as expectations and attention towards him dissolved. Later, he found himself in the principal’s office – she congratulated him on making the honor roll and principal’s list, then she asked him if he’d like to go to a hockey game. He said yes but couldn’t go because his parents had no transportation.
After a day of school, he went over to his friend’s house, but his visit was cut short when his parents began shouting at one another in the bedroom. His friend’s mother emerged into the living room with fresh blood covering the white of her eyes. She told him that he’d have to come back another time.
An ache, resembling a futile longing, was all that he’d inherited from his parents who ran the streets and worked enough to support their habits. The dimensions of his days were steeped in the heavy brine of neglect. He saw and felt too much until he sought emotional blindness. He played and spent time with kids his own age, but an incurable distance ebbed between them.
His experience afforded him no reference for how to interpret the phenomena surrounding him. He entered middle school sulking, barely speaking a word. In this silence, his body began a slow transformation. As his inner world began to split at the seams, his emotions slipped beyond recovery. He barely made it through each day, subsisting on the morsels of wavering possibilities.
He slept on the floor in the projects, finding himself languishing further and further into and undeveloped self. He found himself in a situation where many were not afforded self-belief. The quality of his potential remained unkindled embers, dangerously close to being extinguished.
One night his father, who he remained largely a stranger to, stopped by. He took him to get pizza, but they barely spoke. His hunger for genuine connection superseded any desire for popularity. This orientation engendered scorn and derision, even from some of his adult relatives. His experience felt tenuous and ephemeral, as if it could be supplanted at any time by anyone. The adults in his life feigned warmth and recognition, but he knew they did not see him. He, in turn, developed a healthy mistrust.
That same night, he waited outside of the bathroom as his mother came in and out of consciousness after injecting heroin. This event etched shame and anger upon his young soul. As his performance in school began to decay, he withdrew into numbness; lying by saying he was “okay” when he clearly was not. Talking amongst themselves, the adult speculated if he were inarticulate or simply withholding his thoughts.
In truth, his mind was full of chimeras and inhospitable expanses. The features of his psyche were nebulous, sharp to touch and as ubiquitous as stars in a clear night’s sky. When he walked into a room, people noticed. When he spoke, many paid attention. His eyes were penetratingly innocent; these qualities of gravitas were lost upon him. He was frightened and confounded by the sensations that passed through him. Each step resembled a perilous leap into the unknown.
While walking alone in a desolate field, he heard mewling amid the tall, wind swept grass. Nestled in a small clearing was a litter of newly born kittens, their eyes barely letting in the pale, fall sunlight. They were an assortment of limbs and mouths, splotched with white, black and orange. They grasped and gaped at the newly entered world.
Buried under the bronze veneer of his flesh were turbulent waters where many sunken vessels lied. He softly grabbed the nearest rock; its rough texture pushed tightly against the sweaty center of his hand.
He tossed the first stone at the scrum of fur and murmuring. He walked around the field, picking up rocks and scanning his surroundings, making sure no one was watching. He tossed them as hard as he could, connecting several times with the heads and chests of the litter. He stood in the field, aware that what he’d done was not good, but his body persisted. He slowly took steps toward what he created.
Warm streaks of scarlet lie spattered on paws, whiskers and multicolored rocks. He pushed the long-idle torment back into the spacious compartments of his subconscious. He scoured the large field for a suitable object. Upon finding it, he returned to the site and began using it. With a fallen tree branch and his hands, he dug a shallow crevice in the cool, coffee-colored soil. With one hand, he shielded his eyes from the quickly setting sun, he used the other to push the still murmuring pile into a shallow grave. He hastily filled it and returned home.
That night consciousness was wrested from his body only partially. Vague, dissonant impressions startled him back onto the terrestrial plane. That morning as he through the field on his way to class, his face darkened, and his heart began beating rapidly. It went on this way for several weeks to the point that he began having mild convulsions – trembling whenever his surroundings became too loud or moved too quickly.
As his headaches and backpain persisted, he became more submerged in the rapids of deterioration. He rode his bike and took walks aimlessly, going as far as he could from home. His interactions were skeletal – he spoke with his eyes downcast, his voice a tenuous thread of sound. That fall, he was taken to churches, roller rinks and libraries, but none of thee excursions managed to take his attention away from recollections of the field and stones.
On Halloween, he went out collecting candy with some cousins in a werewolf costume. It was a rainy evening, punctuated by barking dogs, careening headlights, droning thunder and vacant alleyways. His interpretation of these phenomena mingled with his senses, putting him in a state. The coarse sonic fabric of voices, distant aircrafts, locomotive horns and rustle of fallen leaves momentarily subdued what was ever present.
After hours of walking and eating candy, he got into bed. But before he got settled, he vomited onto the floor. The result resembled gasoline on concrete – liquid hues of green gold and purple bled into one another. Even when he was sitting still, he was sprinting into the night across ambling terrain. Even when he was silent, one got the sense that he was on the verge of screaming.
It went against every fabric of his being to try to be other than who he was, despite the subtle and not so subtle urgings of his relatives and schoolmates. When class became inhospitable, he began spending long days walking and taking the bus across the city. Though he was alone, he enjoyed the absence of expectation mixed with repulsion. He refused to grow buoyant upon the trauma but allowed himself to sink beneath it: it was the only way he could get out.
As his volition had not grown to a level that could sustain his world, he remained dependent on these around him. The barriers between him and others had only grown more intense and glaring. His rare episodes of anger and defiance were largely dismissed as him, “needing an outlet”. Thus, he grew more intangible by the day, only holding long conversations when he saw fit.
He was plagued by a confounding curiosity; questions ruminated in his mind to the point that he couldn’t sleep. In his pajamas, he’d wander inaudibly into the early morning. Once he was found by his mother having a conversation with a homeless man in front of a library. His silence would not relent as she berated him. When she questioned the man, he told her that, “The boy was only concerned about me and how many books I’ve read”.
That night he slept soundly but continued to live under the doubt and suspicion of those around him.
J.L. Moultrie is a native Detroiter, poet and fiction writer who communicates his art through the written word. He fell in love with literature after encountering Fyodor Dostoyevsky, James Baldwin, Rainer Maria Rilke and many others. His work appears or is forthcoming in Datura Literary Journal, Abstract: Contemporary Expressions, Visitant, Backchannels, The Free Library of the Internet Void and elsewhere. He considers himself a literary abstract artist of modernity.